Designing Digital Experiences for Positive Primary Language Learning

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This is a review of Christina Nicole Giannikas‘ session at the International House Barcelona ELT conference, February 2019, by our roving reporter, Georgios Vlassios Kompas. This is the penultimate of five reviews from the LTSIG strand.

Although this is the fourth of five reviews, Christina’s session was actually the last presentation after a very exciting and invigorating day! She got us into the world of Young Learners and how they see digitalization.  She explained that children enter the digital world in a very canonized way.  It is as if they are born in a digital world and there is path that they follow.  This path is becoming more and more digital and as children grow they can embrace technology and use it for their benefit.

Christina went on to discuss how this influx of technology has come about.  She explained that the Internet was a catalyst in that direction.  With more broadband connections available, at an affordable price, Internet access has entered everyone’s home.  Handheld devices have become abundant, yet again there is a great variety of brands and prices that can be choices.   That overabundance of technology has given children exposure to technology from a very young age.

Is the Internet a good thing?  Christina gave us some good reasons to believe so.  The Internet has excellent opportunities for learning, and there is great wealth on it.  There are great opportunities for communication, socialization with friends and family.  People can find new hobbies, or they can develop the ones they have already.  There is also a great variety of different games, listening to music or watching videos.

How can the Internet assist in language learning?  It can connect children all around the world.  The older ones in the audience, and readers of this may remember ‘pen-pals’, a unique and quite innovative system that thrived in the late 80’s and 90’s where students from all over the world would exchange letters with others.  I can still remember waiting for the postman to bring my letter from my beloved friend Sophia from Germany!  Christina highlighted other benefits of the internet in language learning, she talked about increasing confidence in L2 communication, authentic use of language, makes learning more interesting, relatable and exciting.  It does encourage learner autonomy. 

Conversely, the same happens with the Internet and children.  Christina talked about the dangers that are out there – all the inappropriate content.  A lot of material may be inaccurate. It can have abusive images, bad language and many other dangers.  Children may also register for inappropriate websites and might be victims of cyberbullying.  A lot of dangers that need to be taken into consideration when allowing children to browse the internet were mentioned.  Christina gave a very realistic example of a child buying a house on eBay.  He was 3!

Christina also gave another personal example. Her 2 year old called LTSIG coordinator, Sophia Mavridi, the week before on her cellphone!  Quite an interesting example!

Christina walked us through how students can safely browse the internet in a safe way.  Sites that students can visit should be discussed in class.  A list of safe websites should be kept.  Safe sites can be from trusted entities, like schools, public TV networks or others.  Extreme care should be taken for applications that have violent content. 

Participants were asked to take a short quiz about cybersecurity.  Although this was developed for Australia it can fit in any educational context, with maybe some deviations.

Christina then stressed the importance of media literacy.  Students need to be aware of many aspects of technology as they grow up.  They need to become active rather than passive consumers of media.  Christina gave some examples of higher meaning of media literacy.  Students need to be able to recognize bias and stereotyping.  They need to recognize different kinds of violence.  They need to be able to read between the lines, see the difference between entertainment and marketing, as well as understanding how news is constructed.  By all means, these are quite difficult skills to have, not only for children but also for adults.  A lot of guidance and experience is needed.

A classroom idea:

Lastly, Christina showed us an internet safety video by Pumba and Timon, favorite Disney characters, to highlight that there is a lot of content out there that can be used by teachers and children. 

The final review, along with a video of the day’s events will be published on here very soon.

contact details: Christina Giannikas: [email protected]
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